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Protester Banished From The Plaza After George Floyd Protest Sues Kansas City Police Board

George_Floyd_protest_KC.jpg
Carlos Moreno
/
For KCUR
Police lead a protestor away from a demonstration near the Country Club Plaza on May 30.

Theresa Taylor was arrested during a June 1 protest, one of hundreds across the country provoked by the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by Minneapolis police.

A woman who was arrested during a June protest of police brutality and ordered not to return to the Country Club Plaza is suing the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners, claiming the order violates her constitutional rights.

Theresa Taylor says she fears participating in future protests near the Plaza lest she be arrested again for violating the banishment order.

“The racist history behind the Plaza and surrounding area make it an important place for protest against racial injustice,” said Amy Breihan, co-Director at MacArthur Justice Center, which along with the ACLU of Missouri represents Taylor.

“Kansas City Police’s order banishing Ms. Taylor from that area – for any purpose – is clearly unconstitutional. And it also demonstrates law enforcement’s power to silence dissenting voices including and especially when those voices are raised in objection to police violence.”

Breihan’s reference was to the developer of the Plaza, Jesse Clyde Nichols, who pioneered the use of restrictive real estate covenants barring the sale of houses in his developments to Blacks and Jews. The Plaza opened for business in 1923.

The Kansas City Department of Parks and Recreation on June 30 voted to remove Nichols’ name from the fountain in Mill Creek Park just east of the Plaza and the street nearby, both of which bore his name.

The lawsuit names the five members of the police board: Don Wagner, a private investor and the board’s president; Mark Tolbert, the pastor of Victorious Life Church and the board’s vice president; Cathy Dean, a retired lawyer with the Polsinelli firm; Nathan Garrett, a lawyer with the Graves Garrett firm; and Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, who as mayor automatically serves on the board.

A spokeswoman for Lucas said he won't comment on pending litigation. None of the other board members could be reached for comment.

Taylor was arrested during a June 1 protest, one of hundreds across the country provoked by the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by Minneapolis police. The group of about 100 protesters in Kansas City was marching north on Main Street toward downtown when they were blocked by a police barricade at 31st and Main streets. Taylor and 10 to 15 other protesters started heading back to the Plaza when they were ordered by the police to disperse.

According to Taylor’s lawsuit:

As they were attempting to disperse, police threatened to arrest anyone who refused to leave the area. Police then arrested Taylor, who was on the sidewalk, and the other protesters. Taylor's hands were zip-tied, her COVID-19 mask was confiscated and she was told to sit against a wall.

“At the time of her arrest, Taylor had been walking peacefully on the sidewalk back to her car and entering the street only to cross it while walking, in compliance with the dispersal order, for about 15 minutes,” the lawsuit states.

While they were being transported downtown to the East Patrol division, the police taunted and mocked the protesters.

“Taylor observed police officers smiling, laughing, and swapping stories of their arrests of protesters, as if each arrest was a trophy. Taylor heard an officer say: ‘I got mine, did you get yours?’” the suit alleges.

Taylor was detained for several hours before being told she had failed to comply with a lawful police order. After she posted $1,000 bail that was set before she could see a judge, police told her and the other protesters that they could not return to the Plaza and would be arrested and held without bail if they did.

The charges against Taylor were subsequently dismissed but the banishment order still stands, her lawsuit says.

“This verbal order, meant to intimidate and silence Missourians calling for an end to police brutality, is unconstitutional,” Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri,” said in a statement. “The treatment Ms. Taylor and others were subjected to at the hands of law enforcement is an example of the very reason it is so important our fundamental right to protest is protected and that police reform and accountability are necessary.”

The lawsuit seeks a court order finding the banishment order violated Taylor’s rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Taylor is also seeking nominal damages.

The ACLU filed another lawsuit in July on behalf of three protesters who were arrested in June and charged with violating “failure to obey” orders after they took part in protests on the Plaza. The lawsuit argues the municipal ordinances at issue are unconstitutional and give police unlimited license to silence speech and violate individuals’ due-process rights.